Networks are being distributed to edge locations that are physically distant from the central network staff, so end users in remote facilities must be depended upon to perform network maintenance and support.
What's the best way to get these non-IT personnel, so-called paraprofessionals, up to speed on the network rudiments and to back them up when complicated issues arise? Here are some suggestions:
#1 Pick your people
A plant or office manager in a remote location can be tempted to assign the “most expendable” person in the department to manage technical chores. You want to avoid this if you’re a network manager. One proactive step you can take is to visit with the area manager upfront, presenting the manager with a job description and tasks for remote network maintenance that you will expect a network “paraprofessional" in an end-user area to perform. The understanding. of course, is that you will fully train and support this person. The second understanding is that this person will only be a part-time network supervisor. The individual still has a main job to do in the end-user department.
By preparing a formal list of duties for network paraprofessionals, you put yourself in a position to obtain competent and trainable employees to supervise and administer remote networks.
#2 Establish a division of labor
If you are dividing network supervision and administration between central IT and remote users, it’s imperative to define a clear division of labor between the two so personnel from both areas can work together efficiently as a team. This division of tasks should be clearly documented. The documentation should include the procedures for escalation of troubleshooting and problem solving (i.e., at what point is the remote network paraprofessional expected to contact IT for help?).
The best way to present this documentation is during the training sessions for network paraprofessionals. During training, you can train the task list, procedures for escalating network issues to IT, etc., and also the corporate policies for network governance and security.
#3 Train them on network skills
Training of network paraprofessionals should be done in person and in a hands-on mode. In this way, trainees obtain direct experience with network skills and operations. Questions can be answered on the spot. This builds confidence in the end users who will be performing network tasks.
Once initial skills are mastered, IT should continue with periodic visits to end-user areas (preferably monthly). This ensures that policies are being followed and procedures are being performed. During these visits, IT can also assess skill levels and deliver additional training where needed.
There should also be an open helpline directly into the central IT network group so individuals in user areas can get prompt answers to questions as they come up.
#4 Use zero-trust networks and robust network edge security
Moving more IT to the edge and then adding IoT devices complicates security and makes it easier for bad actors to gain access to networks and cause damage. This risk increases if you have uninformed or under-trained personnel in remote edge sites trying to maintain network health and security.
One way that IT can help bulletproof remote networks is by installing them as zero-trust networks that use software automation to monitor network traffic and detect breaches and intrusions. Zero-trust networks will issue alerts that both local network support personnel and central IT can see.
IT can additionally harden edge networks by personally performing all installs of new equipment and devices and by ensuring at the same time that the security settings on the equipment and the devices are properly calibrated to enterprise standards. As a final step, central IT should ensure that the latest security software updates are promptly uploaded to all edge devices affected.
#5 Set network deployment standards and purchasing criteria
Citizen development is continuing to grow in enterprises, and with it, so is the number of networks and cloud services that users purchase and subscribe to without IT’s knowledge. When this happens, it becomes difficult to know exactly how much total IT the company has under management—or how it is being managed.
CIOS and network managers can remedy this situation by advocating for and obtaining control of all incoming IT assets so that IT can properly set new equipment to corporate security and governance standards. The company’s RFP process should also be revisited to ensure that any IT equipment or services being purchased or subscribed to must meet minimal standards for corporate safety, governance, and security.
If IT assets are properly vetted and secured by IT when they first come through the door, there is less likelihood that they will be hacked and compromised. Central IT should also be the department responsible for installing all new equipment, whether IT purchases it or not. This makes monitoring, securing, and maintaining IT assets more foolproof for both the central IT networking group and the network paraprofessionals who are deployed at corporate edge points.
#6 Make physical visits
At least monthly, the IT networking group should pay onsite visits to user personnel at the various corporate edge points where networks are installed. This gives both user paraprofessionals and full-time IT network staff the opportunity to go over network events and issues. It also forms the basis for strong ongoing relationships and teamwork.
There is one other important aspect to physical visits, and this is physical security itself. For example, in a manufacturing plant, it might be standard procedure to place all sensitive IT assets and equipment in a locked cage area after a shift is completed. As part of this procedure, only authorized personnel should have access to the cage.
Often, manufacturing personnel get busy and forget to stow and secure equipment after shifts are completed. This is why affirming the physical security of IT assets should also be on checklists when IT network and paraprofessional personnel meet to review procedures and performance.
#7 Review and revise
Nothing ever stays the same—but documentation often does! As security, policies, procedures, networks, and equipment change, the documentation must change along with it. The reality is that keeping documentation up to date is one of the hardest things for IT and users to do.
Documentation updates are best done alongside the periodic reviews and revisions of edge networks that should occur annually. In this way, everything documented remains synchronized with the networks themselves.
A final word on using paraprofessionals
IT departments are already stretched to their limits. As networks evolve and more edge deployments become essential, organizations can complement their IT staff with suitably selected and trained paraprofessionals.
These workers can help with basic networking chores in remote locations and ensure enterprise best practices and procedures are followed.